The wedding shoes, on display at Mount Vernon through Feb. 23, are part of a revamping of the first first lady's image, said Edward Lengel, senior editor at the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia.
"We always see Martha with a withered face in her old age. But she was quite a beautiful woman in her younger years, and Washington loved her deeply," Lengel told The Washington Post in a story published Monday.
Contrary to popular opinion, Martha was not fat when she married George, Lengel said, adding that she loved reading Gothic romance novels and was a much sought-after diminutive beauty who handily managed five plantations left to her when her first husband died.
Portraying Martha as dumpy served to foster a sense of legitimacy for the fledgling nation, said Emily Shapiro, a curator at Mount Vernon, the Washington home near Alexandria, Va.
"The country was still so young," she said. "I think it was reassuring to see its leaders as older, distinguished, stately and gray-haired people."